A prominent conservative evangelical who was recently criticized for saying evangelicals need to repent of homophobia was extended an empathy card from an unlikely source this week.
Brian McLaren, who is considered an emergent pastor and whose teachings are rejected by evangelicals, released an open letter to Dr. Albert Mohler on Wednesday, lamenting the ridicule Mohler received from Christians.
"I wanted to express my sadness at the way your recent comments about repenting of homophobia were attacked and ridiculed by one of your fellow conservative Christians," McLaren wrote.
"I know what it's like to take a risk and say things that you believe need to be said – because you believe they're true and because justice, kindness, and humility require you to say them – only to be maligned for doing so. I'm sincerely sorry you are experiencing this."
McLaren is referring to the debate sparked by Mohler's comments made at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Phoenix earlier this month. After giving a report on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, of which he serves as president, Mohler was probed by a delegate from Waco, Ga., about statements he made in an earlier interview.
The Waco pastor, Peter Lumpkins, took issue with this statement: "We've lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia," which Mohler made in an article featured in The Christian Science Monitor in March.
Addressing the issue in front of thousands of Southern Baptists, Mohler reaffirmed his belief that "evangelicals have a very sad history in dealing with [homosexuality]."
"The reality is that we as Christian churches have not done well on this issue. And I think that if we are unwilling to admit that, it is further to our shame," he maintained.
"We have also exhibited a certain form of homophobia of which we must, absolutely must in Gospel terms repent."
While evangelicals have rightfully touted biblical truth, saying homosexuality is sin, he explained, where they have gone wrong is in the way they have delivered that truth.
"We haven't applied it in a biblical way," Mohler said.
"For instance, we have said to people that homosexuality's just a choice. Well, it's clear that it's more than a choice. That doesn't mean it's any less sinful but it does mean it's not something that people can just turn on and turn off."
Moreover, evangelicals need to understand that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ "gives a homosexual person any hope of release from homosexuality."
"The Gospel is the only remedy for sin."
Mohler also reminded fellow Christians that all of them are sinners washed and saved by grace.
"Our job is not done until sitting in our pews among us are those of whom it is said 'I once was that,' as we say 'I once was something else.'"
His comments were met by applause by most of the Southern Baptists at the meeting. But since then, he has received some criticism from fellow conservative believers, including Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association.
"Evidently, according to Rev. Mohler, if you don’t believe gays are born that way, you’re either a homophobe or right next to it. He told the delegates at the SBC that homosexuality is ‘more than a choice,’ and that it apparently borders on something sinful to believe otherwise," said Fischer.
Observing the debate from afar, McLaren, as someone who has often been on the receiving end of criticism, felt compelled to express his empathy.
"[P]lease know that I'm still sincerely sorry you're being maligned," he said in the open letter to Mohler.
McLaren thanked the prominent Southern Baptist for making the statements he did.
"On behalf of my gay family members and friends who face real homophobia from far too many churches far too often,... often within Evangelical churches more than anywhere else, thank you for taking a risk and saying some things that needed to be said."
"The simplistic dismissals and ungracious manner of your critics should not be rewarded with concessions," he added. "So stand firm, and maintain the courage to graciously differ with them – just as you have done with me and others like me on some occasions."
Mohler is considered one of the most prominent evangelicals in the country. He has published over 200 articles on the subject of homosexuality and firmly believes it is a sin.